Writing Sex Scenes: What’s The Goal?

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This week for Writer Wednesday, we’re gonna look at writing sex scenes. There’s a whole lot I can say about this topic, so we’ll split it up into multiple posts. We’ll start with talking about the goal of sex scenes. By the way, I first wanted to call this series writing solid sex scenes…but that pun was too easy, haha.

Sex scenes feel like almost a requirement for gay romance, but is that really true? Can you write and sell a romance without sex scenes?

The quick answer is sure you can. It all depends on the heat level you’ve decided on. There’s every shade between super steamy and super sweet—and the choice is yours as author. I write steamy gay romances, but I love reading sweet ones as well, as long as the story itself is good.

Considerations whether or not to add sex scenes to your book include your preferred heat level, then, but also what fits your story. That second aspect is what I want to focus on most.

The Goal of Sex Scenes

In case you were wondering, the goal of a sex scene is not for characters to get off, LOL. Just wanted to make that clear…

In general, everything you include in your novel has to have a purpose. It has to move the story forward, it has to bring new insights to characters, reveal something fresh to us as readers, or show new plot developments. In short, everything has to change something.

That’s no different for sex scenes. Every sex scene you include has to change something, either for the characters or in the story. If a sex scene changes nothing, it shouldn’t be there. A quick test is taking the scene out and checking if the story makes sense without it. If it does, it’s technically a superfluous sex scene.

What Do Sex Scenes Change?

Let’s make this a little more concrete. What could a sex scene possibly change in the story? Here are some suggestions:

  • It shows a trust between the MCs that wasn’t there before
  • It reveals sexual hang-ups that were hidden up till then
  • It shows an intimacy between the MCs that’s new
  • It leads to one or both MCs realizing their connection is more than sex
  • It reveals character aspects of one or both MCs, like being a generous lover, being selfless, etc.
  • It reveals kinks that were hidden before
  • It leads to revelations for one or both MCs, eg that sex can be good, or that their ex was lousy in bed, or that they do like rimming after all
  • It leads to spontaneous exclamations of love…or lust

This list is endless, of course, and it all depends on the story you’re telling. You may wonder if showing a new sexual position is a valid goal for a sex scene, for instance when MC1 has never bottomed before and you want to show him doing that for the first time, or you have a hot idea for a wall sex scene that you want to incorporate. Do these count as valid goals?

Not by themselves, they don’t. They also have to change something in the relationship, in the plot, in the story. The characters should be changed somehow after. If not, the scene should be deleted. And change can be as simple as MC1 making that jump in trust emotionally when bottoming for the first time, thus leading to more intimacy and trust between him and his lover. If that growing trust is visible in the scenes after, the sex scene did its job.

Sex Scenes Should Flow Logically From The Story

Another aspect to consider is that sex scenes can only change something when they flow logically from the story. Let’s say we have a main character who has been disappointed with people in the past and as a result, has developed trust issues. What does that mean for how he would think about sex? How he would act in a sexual encounter?

If you have a character like that, and you write a scene where he immediately offers to bottom (which is a huge trust issue), or to ditch condoms, your sex scenes doesn’t fit the story at all. Characters have to behave consistently within the character and backstory you’ve developed for them, and that includes sex.

Sure, there’s always some suspense of disbelief. Sex is usually a lot clumsier and messier and less perfect than depicted in romances—but you can get away with that, most of the times. What you can’t get away with is showing something that doesn’t flow naturally from the storyline, from the characters you’ve created.

So, in short, before writing a sex scene ask yourself this:

  • Is it the right timing for a sex scene? Does it flow naturally from the story and the characters?
  • What will the scene change? What will I show about the main characters, their backstory, or the story in this scene?

We’ll talk more about sex scenes in a later post. For now, any questions? Comments? Hit me!

8 thoughts on “Writing Sex Scenes: What’s The Goal?”

  1. Well said. I read a book once that had multiple sex scenes that were almost all identical. There was nothing to them that revealed something new about a character or pushed the story towards the next beat. I quickly started skipping over them and I’m not even sure I ever finished it. I love steamy sex scenes in romances, but they need a purpose.

    1. Even in erotica, I think sex scenes should have a goal…it’s just the heat level that’s different, but the scenes should still move the story forward…

  2. I really needed this article today. I’m usually that person who edits while I write everything which I’ve found actually is a distraction for me. So when writing this book, I decided NO self-editing while I write. I’m just going to tell their story and how it comes out of my fingers is how they want their story told. I had a beginning and ending on the outline I had invisioned earlier this year, but the middle, the meat and bones of their story, would never come so I just started writing it knowing it would come to me. So I’m about 14 chapters in. I think flow is going really well. Everything between them is progressing naturally and it’s sex scene time. I didn’t force them into the scene, it just naturally went there. Then it just ground to a halt. One of my MC’s was like “Nope, it’s not going to be like that. or like that.” So I ended up writing something I had not planned on for this character. It totally came out of left field on me. lol. Then I read you article and it hit me. The change in scene gave me that needed goal to progress the story rather than them just having sex. It’s like a light went on. Keep them coming! Let’s see if you can read my struggle next week! 😀

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